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Frequently Asked Questions 
About The Donnellys receives an incredible amount of e-mail concerning the Donnellys. Many of the letters received ask the same questions over and over again, so this page is devoted to answering those Frequently Asked Questions. These answers are to the Webmaster's best knowledge. However, should these facts need revision of any kind, any additional information or corrections will be greatly appreciated. Thank you!


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What's So Official About Being Official?

Occasionally, we get e-mail from visitors wondering why this web site is called The Official Donnelly Home Page. What's so Official about it? Hopefully, the following answers that question.

When this web site was created in 1997, it was the only site on the Internet about the Donnellys. Hence its name. Since then, it has earned its name 'Official' from the recognition it has received from The History Channel, Canadian libraries, and public schools where the site is used in the classroom as a reliable source for Donnelly information. 

What offers... is the only site that offers everything to do with the Donnellys from historical information and photographs, to books, music and videos. It's the only site where a Donnelly enthusiast can go to find out what books have been written on the subject, what movies have been made, what songs recorded, and where the Donnelly Homestead is located. Enthusiasts can also buy Donnelly souvenirs here, find links to other Donnelly related web sites, and even join a Donnelly fan club.    

The site is also a vehicle for Donnelly authors to promote their books. Due to the tremendous success of the web site, Donnelly authors have a target market to sell their books to, and a bigger audience. Many readers would be unaware of these great works, especially the newer books, if it weren't for this web site promoting them.

Something For Everyone...
So, that's why this is The Official Donnelly Home Page. It offers something for everyone who is interested in the Donnellys. If it's about the Donnellys, you'll most likely find it here. As for the history itself, you will find only the very basics of the story here. For the whole story, there are several books written by Donnelly experts that we highly recommend. You can order them here through Check out the Donnelly Bookshelf.

And finally... this web site was created for anyone who's interested in the Donnellys and finding out more about them. Whether you're a Donnelly enthusiast, or someone learning about the Donnellys for the first time, it is our hope that you will find the information on this web site useful. And that you will encourage others to drop by for a visit.

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Why are the Donnellys called the Black Donnellys?

Some people believe the Donnellys were Black or African Canadians, while others believe they got the name because they were evil with blackened hearts. Neither is true. There are a few possible explanations for the 'Black' Donnelly designation... the historical political origins of the term, and two other colloquial meanings of the word 'black'.

The historical political origins date back to the Seventeenth Century. From 1695 until the passage of the Emancipation Act of 1829, which returned to the Roman Catholic Irish some of their rights, the Roman Catholic Irish were virtually serfs in their own country. The Irish and English Protestant minority had denied them even the right to own their own land, the land of their forefathers. Instead, they had to lease land from absentee English and Protestant Irish landlords.

This awful state of affairs was at its worst in Tipperary, where James and Johannah Donnelly came from. Ultimately, even the right to 'common' areas of land was taken away from them when the common areas were enclosed and taken over by the landowners. The Roman Catholic residents' poverty became even more abject.

In the mid-seventeen hundreds, a secret society called the 'Whiteboys' was formed. Its primary function was to exact revenge on the hated landowners, at first by levelling the fences that enclosed the one-time common lands, but eventually retribution was visited on whomever they felt had betrayed them, or worked to undermine their efforts. The Whiteboys were joined by a few other similar secret organizations.

The worst acts of their sometimes murderous retribution were reserved, though, for those of their own faith who were seen as traitors for collaborating with the Protestant rulers or defecting from the Whiteboy cause. Those who refuted the Whiteboys or retreated from membership in their cause, suffered mutilation of their livestock, arson and sometimes even death.

Some Tipperary Roman Catholics refused to join or sanction the workings of the violent Whiteboy movement. These families were among the oldest and most prominent of Roman Catholic families, including such names as Keefe, Nangle, and a family of one-time chieftans, the Donnellys.

With the massive Irish immigration to the new world in the early 1800s, most of the time the Irish were easily assimilated into the mixing pot of immigrant cultures, but not in Biddulph Township, Ontario. In Biddulph, with its heavily Irish population, there was a perfect balance of Whiteboys and their Roman Catholic opposers, known in Biddulph as 'Blackfeet'.

Orlo Miller, author of 'The Donnellys Must Die', speculates that the obvious contrast of the name with the Whiteboys was no accidentt, and that it didn't take long for old grievances to be remembered, and the feud to regain its place in the minds and hearts of the Irish immigrants. Imported from Ireland, along with the old quarrel, was the violence, arson and mutilation of animals as a way of expressing displeasure.

This is the political explanation of why the Donnellys have been memorializes as the 'Black' Donnellys. Apparently, James Donnelly made no secret of the fact that he followed the family history of opposing the Whiteboy ways. He patronized both Catholic and Protestant establishments, in defiance of Whiteboy habits, going so far, soon after he arrived in Biddulph Township, as to contribute to the building of St. Jame's Anglican Church.

Whether this is the legitimate explanation of how the Black Donnellys became known by that name is arguable. At different times, Miller also refers to Johannah's swarthy features as being those of the 'black', or dark Irish, and relates how the Donnelly's enemies described the family as "black Irish - black inside and out".

The above information is compiled from Orlo Miller's book, 'The Donnellys Must Die'.

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Where is the original Donnelly tombstone today?

Many rumours abound as to what happened to the original Donnelly tombstone. Like Elvis, it has been spotted all over Ontario, from St. Catherines to Sudbury. Still others believe the stone lies buried beneath a shroud of cobwebs in the basement of St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church on the Roman Line. So, what really happened to the old tombstone that had the word 'murdered' inscribed beneath each Donnelly name?

The original headstone was erected in 1889 by William Donnelly, and stood watch as a stone guardian over the Donnelly gravesite for 75 years. Like today, the gravesite attracked thousands of visitors, who flocked to the cemetery to see the famous gravestone. It is said that this publicity, coupled with the damage to church property by overzealous tourists, forced the parish priest to have the stone removed in 1964. A new stone was erected by the remaining members of the family with the omission of the offensive word 'murdererd' that had created so much attention.

The original tombstone ended up in a little town called Levack, about 40 miles north of Sudbury. According to Patrick Smith, a Donnelly enthusiast who has studied the Donnelly story for over 45 years, the headstone was brought to Levack by "William and Nora Donnelly's grandson and granddaughter". One has since passed on, and the other is in "very poor health". As for the stone, it was placed in their garage in two pieces, and is probably still there today.

The descendent who has possession of the old tombstone doesn't wish to be associated with his family's tragic history, so out of respect, his name is being withheld. As for the future of the headstone, we can only hope that maybe someday, the family in Levack will see the historical significance of the original Donnelly tombstone, and perhaps donate it to the Lucan Area Heritage Museum, or the Donnelly Homestead, so we can all enjoy it. The gravestone is a part of the Donnelly's heritage, and should be donated to those dedicated to keeping that heritage alive.

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Has a movie ever been made about the Donnellys?

Movies, Docu-dramas, TV Shows...
To our knowledge, there is no motion picture about the Donnellys. There are many writers that are working on screenplays in the hopes of making a movie someday, so there is a lot of interest in doing a movie project. But nothing has been done yet.

The only video docu-drama that we know of is: 'Tragedy'. Produced by Robert Gibbons, and written by Ray Fazakas, author of 'The Donnelly Album', the docu-drama is based on the true story of the brutal murders of the Donnelly family. Various locations such as: Lucan, the Donnelly Homestead, Donnelly Schoolhouse, the Cedar Swamp Schoolhouse, St. Patrick's Church and Cemetery, and the Roman Line, are visited and described by Robert Salts, current owner of the Donnelly Homestead. The video is one hour long, and can be purchased from Robert Salts through this web site: Donnelly Online Store

A&E Home Video released a video in August 2001: 'More Haunted Houses: Tortured Souls & Restless Spirits'. It is a collection of stories about five haunted houses which includes the Donnelly Homestead. it is a fascinating video that offers interesting information about supposed Donnelly ghosts that various on-the-scene psychics claims to have seen. Althought the 100 minute film is well done, some of the historical information regarding the Donnelly tragedy is either incorrect, or missing. This video is available on, and can also be ordered through this web site. Donnelly Online Store

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Why are coins left on the Donnelly tombstone?

To our knowledge, Many people who visit the Donnelly gravesite have noticed coins left behind on the headstone. Apparently, legend has it that if you leave a coin on the Donnelly tombstone and make a wish, the Donnellys will grant that wish. So, the next time you visit the Donnelly gravesite, don`t forget to place a coin on the tombstone, and make a wish. It just might come true!

Update: We received an e-mail from someone who read a book about myths and superstitions, and they said... another reason for leaving coins on a tombstone is... if a ghost is haunting you, or if you owned someone money before they died, the ghost will collect it, if you place the money on the tombstone before midnight.

Coins on the Donnelly Tombstone
Tourists leave coins on the Donnelly tombstone
 hoping the Donnellys will grant their wishes.

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